Editor’s Note: Evaluating transcripts of incoming English Language Learner students can often be tricky – for both schools with large numbers of ELLs and those with fewer ones. Here’s a guest post from Mary M. Martin offering some good advice on how to handle this situation.

Mary M. Martin is currently an independent educational consultant, Director of Language Acquisition for Warren Instructional Network (WIN) and owner of EL Program and Compliance Solutions (ELPACS). Her roles have included: elementary Spanish teacher, middle school ESL teacher, campus administrator, and district- level EL program director.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education, indicates in fall 2015 over 4% of all students enrolling at the secondary level were ELs (2018). ELs entering at the secondary level must overcome multiple hurdles, making it difficult for them to meet high school graduation requirements.

Below are tips to evaluate foreign transcripts and improve enrollment processes for ELs at the secondary level.

Know your state graduation requirements. Knowing your state’s graduation requirements helps determine which courses from other countries can be used for secondary credits. Work with secondary counselors or advisors to determine which courses are needed for various graduation plans. Some states have minimum graduation plans that aren’t accessed often but can support ELs in leaving high school with a diploma in a shorter time frame than the standard graduation plans. State websites typically provide information on required courses and graduation plans at the secondary level.

Translating foreign transcripts. Transcripts can be translated for a fee at any reputable translation service, however these services do not typically verify the course details or its use for secondary credit. Most countries, the U.S. included, have a standardized course title system to support graduates entering higher education. Standardized course titles assist when using a free online translator service (Google Translate, Babelfish, etc.) on transcript details and when matching courses to your state’s requirements. An online search for the campus can provide you with further course details and graduation requirements. If course information isn’t available, learn about the country’s required education plan through their department of education or their embassy. A helpful site for evaluating transcripts is ForeignCredits.com which has free tools and resources to support grade conversions, GPA calculation, and researching education systems around the world.

Develop a replicable process that spans your school system. To ensure equity for students entering your system, develop a process for accepting foreign transcript credits that is transparent, clearly outlined, and reproducible at all campuses. Involve a committee of stakeholders to examine secondary graduation requirements at state and local levels. Determine how the system will honor students’ prior academic efforts while preparing them for local/state graduation requirements. If possible, assign one department or area that is familiar with the needs of ELs to be responsible for accepting, researching and issuing credits for foreign transcripts. Revisit the process as graduation requirements are revised.

ELs who enter U.S. high schools with transcripts from their native country should have their academic efforts honored. Enrollment requirements should facilitate academic achievement and future success for ELs, not serve as a hurdle to graduation. Knowing state requirements, providing translations of transcripts and establishing replicable processes support incoming ELs in their efforts to attain high school diplomas.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). The Condition of Education: English Language Learners in Public Schools. Retrieved from the National Center for education Statistics website: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgf.asp